In Amazon’s hometown, we get a read on Barnes & Noble customers as downtown Seattle store closes

A sign at the entrance of the downtown Seattle Barnes Noble alerts shoppers to the store’s impending closure. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Another chapter in Seattle’s storied literary and retail history is coming to a close on Saturday. Barnes Noble is vacating its downtown location after 22 years, leaving the core of the city without a bookstore.

A bookseller at the large chain’s Northgate location in Seattle said only that a “lease agreement issue” was to blame for the decision to leave Pacific Place, where redevelopment is currently taking place. The employee did not know if Barnes Noble would return to the downtown area in the future.

A steady stream of shoppers browsed what was left on shelves Friday at the location at 600 Pine St. Magazine and newspaper racks had already been cleared on the the top level of the store, as had various sections downstairs, where customers picked over marked down books, toys and more.

The store is just a few blocks from the headquarters of Amazon, the tech giant that started as an online bookseller before expanding into seemingly everything else, pioneering online retail and eventually launching its own bookstores and other physical retail locations. Speaking with GeekWire at the store, Barnes Noble customers shared their thoughts on Amazon, reading habits, digital devices, the joy of physical bookstores and more.

‘I can roam and peruse’

Barnes Noble shopper Michael Brown. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Michael Brown works for Seattle Foundation two blocks from the bookstore and said that he would pop over to browse now and then, sometimes looking to buy and sometimes just seeing what was around.

“I’m old school, I still prefer a book,” Brown said when asked if he reads on a Kindle or any other digital device. He was shopping for kids books because he likes the idea of his young son actually having a book in his hands.

Brown’s consumption of media spans physical and digital. He likes to read a physical copy of The New York Times throughout the week, and also have access to online news from around the world. He does shop on Amazon for books and other things.

“Like everyone else, on one hand I love the convenience of Amazon and being able to go online and not have to walk into a store,” he said. “And at the same time, one of the things I love about a bookstore is I can come in and roam and peruse. I’ll bring the kid and give him the ability to roam and pick up his books. I can’t get that with Amazon.

“When I go to Amazon I kind of know what I’m looking for,” Brown added. “When I come in here I don’t, and I find something new.”

‘I come here a lot’

Barnes Noble says on its website that it still operates 627 stores. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Another shopper named Alice, who preferred to give just her first name, also dropped into the store from work nearby at Nordstrom.

“I come here a lot. I’m a big reader,” said Alice, who has been coming to the location since it opened in 1998. She said that while she’ll read news on digital devices, when she reads for enjoyment she still likes to hold a book. She will buy books online, but not from Amazon. “I’m not an Amazon supporter.”

Alice is happy that a new independent bookshop, called Paper Boat Booksellers, opened in West Seattle in the wake of the closing of another Barnes Noble location in that neighborhood last year. She said she also likes to leave books in little lending libraries around town to “keep the flow” of books going.

With a gift card in hand that she hoped to use up, Alice was clearly bummed that her routine away from work — looking at magazines, browsing cookbooks — was about to change.

“I’m going to miss being able to meander in a bookstore,” she said Friday.

‘I just love information’

Kyle Rose. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Kyle Rose works in real estate finance and as he was looking at bare shelves he couldn’t help wonder what would go into the huge Pacific Place space that Barnes Noble is vacating. He’s been coming to the store since he moved to Seattle in 2014.

“You can go to any Barnes Noble and I don’t think there’s one that doesn’t look like it’s not from a Meg Ryan movie,” Rose said, laughing about the chain’s unchanged looked over the years.

Rose has a Kindle — because it’s “hard to carry 20 books on a train” — but he has trouble reading on screens for a long period of time. And he likes the smell and feel of physical books.

“I have a huge library of analog books and I probably always will,” he said. “I read nothing but nonfiction. I just love information. This one had a pretty big section on engineering and civil engineering at one point — it kind of went the way of the bookstore itself.”

Rose said Seattle has a lot of great, smaller bookstores and Elliott Bay Book Co. on Capitol Hill is one of his loves. “But downtown … I don’t know.”

‘Sad to see any bookstore close’

(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

John Lewis was sitting near the store escalator reading on Friday. He’s from Lake Forest Park, north of Seattle, where he has a “wonderful, thriving bookstore” called Third Place Books.

“I’m sad to see any bookstore close,” Lewis said. “I think it’s a real harm for the city because all kinds of information and diverse opinions are sold here and it’s a real social good to have good bookstores around.”

Lewis likes nonfiction and he’ll read on digital or analog, though he prefers to hold a paper book.

“We buy from Amazon when we can’t get books elsewhere. So I think it provides a real service,” Lewis said. “I’m just sad to see brick and mortar bookstores go out of business.”

Barnes Noble on Pine Street in downtown Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

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